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26 September 2014

Movie Review: Hector and the Search for Happiness


I have never laughed harder at a trailer than I did for Hector and the Search for Happiness. The trailer popped up before Boyhood at the movie theater, and I immediately knew I had to see it. Come on, that China gong/platter bit? At first I was all, "....are they really doing this...?" then I could not stop cracking up when I realized what had happened.

Undeterred by its mediocre-to-bad reviews from its UK release that resulted in a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, we headed to the movie theater on Saturday afternoon. There's no way that movie could be that bad from such a funny trailer. Granted, with a logline like this, it is pretty easy to stray into Clicheland - specifically in the Eat, Pray, Love neighborhood (which, for the record, I don't hate). The premise of the movie, based on a French book, is that Hector (the amazing Simon Pegg, who gets to show some of his dramatic acting chops) leads a ho-hum life as a psychiatrist in London with his gorgeous girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike). One day he realizes he's not actually helping his patients or contributing anything to their lives, and sets out to 'find out what makes people happy' by traveling around the world. Perhaps a particularly relevant subject matter for me as I'm in a minor quarter life crisis at the moment, but that's a topic for another day.

And I would, indeed, be more generous than a review aggregator for this movie, and score in the 65% range. It's not completely life-changing in the, "oh my god, I have to go to volunteer at a medical clinic in Africa" way, but it was a nice way to spend an afternoon. It got a few laughs out of me, and even almost some tears - two pretty uncommon reactions from me.

The movie benefits from a great cast with the likes of Stellan Skarsgard, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer, and the inherent visual interest of a hand full of exotic locales like Shanghai, Tibet, and Africa. Two of the standout scenes both took place on planes. The first is when Hector first meets Stellan Skarsgard's character (I am a big fan of the Skarsgard family), a filthy rich banker named Edward. The second is when Hector helps a terminal cancer patient become more comfortable on her last plane ride. The 'China gong moment', as I've dubbed it, unfortunately works a lot better in the trailer, but maybe it was because I was already expecting it.

Hector gets bogged down at some crucial moments in its heavy-handedness though. His realization that his young Chinese lady companion was actually a prostitute was so disappointingly overdone. Did she really need to be dragged away kicking and screaming by her pimp? Skipping ahead to the ending, another way overdone scene is when Hector is on the phone with Clara while Christopher Plummer and Toni Collette are observing his emotions on the brain monitor thing. It kind of felt like the director figured he had two great actors in the room so he should just give them a couple more lines to shout out, even though they were completely unnecessary. Overall I feel like the film, and especially moments like these, could have used a more gentle narrative touch. You don't always need to spell everything out for the audience - especially in a movie all about introspection and self-discovery. Hector also is constantly asking all of his new friends what makes them happy, in just about as many words, and while the movie does try to back up the statements, I wish he didn't literally have to pull out his notebook and say, "So, what makes you happy?" to everyone. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels plugged in, like he's filling out a school assignment.

One device Hector could have made more use of was the illustrations. I personally love little narrative tools like this sprinkled in once in a while. In the first third of the movie, the audience is treated to little animations of the doodles that Hector draws in his notebook, as well as handwritten notes on his observations/learnings about happiness. The illustrations mostly disappear as we get into the meat of the film, but I think using them more with an editorial touch would have enhanced the whimsical and slightly dreamy qualities of the film, and showed us Hector's unique perspective more artfully.

In sum, please don't be put off by the low ratings and do check out Hector and the Search for Happiness, especially if you're into travel, or even just the idea of travel. It's a nice film and will certainly get you itching to pack your bags for a big adventure.

04 September 2014

Drama Review: Heartstrings


I had been meaning to watch this drama for a while now, especially after watching Jung Yong Hwa be a little bit boring in Marry Him If You Dare. I had heard mostly mediocre (verging on bad) things about Heartstrings (the Korean title is You've Fallen for Me) but I wanted something simple and not too involved to watch at night for fluff, and Heartstrings basically delivered all of that.

I'll preface the body of this review by saying I think I observe and care about very weird things in dramas/other shows/movies, but hey, if I didn't have anything different to say than everyone else, why write it right? Also, it has now been a few months since I've actually watched the drama so I have probably forgotten a lot of what I was going to say by now. #irresponsibleblogging

Anyway. Heartstrings. For those who are not familiar, it's set in a performing arts college. Park Shin Hye plays Lee Gyu Won, a traditional Korean music major specializing in the gayageum, which is a Korean string instrument. Gyu Won's grandfather is a renowned traditional Korean singer, so she has a lot to live up to. Jung Yong Hwa, who I always like despite his sometimes-subdued acting, plays Lee Shin, the campus rock star who actually has his own fangirls. But really, does that actually happen anywhere? Actually...I guess every campus does have that one really hot guy all the girls ogle a little bit. But not to the extent that the girls do in this drama.

There are a couple of side plots, including the romance of the hotshot record producer/guest school musical producer Kim Suk Hyun (Song Chang Eui) and dance professor Jung Yoon Soo (Yi Hyun), and dorky Yeo Joon Hee's (the hilarious Kang Min Hyuk) crush on campus star Han Hee Joo (Kim yoon Hye), but the main storyline is the school's big anniversary show, and how the characters all pull together to make it happen. And Gyu Won and Shin fall in love and stuff, giving a bit of closure to second-lead diehards from You're Beautiful.

I think the negative reviews I heard about this drama stem from the fact that it employs tons of cliches. As much as I don't want to just compare anything musical- and school-related to Glee... it's kind of like Glee, minus any gay characters and outcast humor. Instead, it does include Hee Joo's struggle with an eating disorder, and colors her story a bit to elevate her beyond just the school bully. (Instead, her mom is.)

Not sure if anyone is still dying to see this drama, so I won't go into too many more plot details I suppose, but basically it fulfilled my mood at the time for a fluffy, emotionally low commitment drama. I loved the overall look/style of the show, and the fact that it had a more realistic storyline in relation to many other dramas. No eyeball cancer or amnesia here. Not many dramas are set in college, either, and since I'm not really interested in high school dramas anymore (with Answer Me 1997 being the exception), it was nice to see the actors playing characters their actual age.

I always want to like Park Shin Hye more than I do. She's cute, and she always has such nice hair (see: this drama and Heirs). She also has really cute outfits in Heartstrings, and basically I just want to look like that all the time. But I feel like her acting is mostly a touch removed from the present, and she's kind of just smiling prettily, crying loudly, or pouting childishly. Honestly, for me, she was at her best in You're Beautiful, and her work after that has just been not that great. Jung Yong Hwa is also not the best actor there ever was, but he makes it work, and I find him pretty likable anyway. The chemistry between these two didn't gel all the way for me, though those coffee scenes were pretty cute. And of course, Yong Hwa gets to be a rock star in this drama, so he's on his home turf.

For those in the mood for some light, attractive entertainment, go ahead and check this out if you have the time. If you're looking for something that will really grab you and ignite them ~feels, you'll do better to turn elsewhere. Meanwhile, I'm just finishing up I Need Romance 3, so look out for a recap of that once I'm through!

Roommate: Because life is better with annotations by some Korean motion graphics editor

Those who have been following my recaps on Kaedejun know that I am really pulling for Roommate, SBS's variety show following 11 10 7 celebrities as they live together and get to know each other.

I've followed the show from when it first started airing this past spring, and gotten more invested as it went on. Even though the ratings haven't been too strong for this show (or SBS's Good Sunday line up in general...How could you not love Running Man though??), I've stuck with it. I've really come to be attached to all the roommates - even Min Woo has grown on me. I really do get a sense of warmth and friendship from this show - it kind of reminds me of summer camp, or study abroad, where you get randomly placed with a group of people and you end up becoming such great friends through a shared experience. Of course, a lot of the content on Roommate is contrived, but hey, it's TV after all.

Like a lot of viewers, I was initially interested because Park Bom was part of the cast. She was pretty much the only one I knew, besides having seen Lee Dong Wook in My Girl eons ago (his hair is much better now). Sure, the show started out with a somewhat awkward vibe, but I thought it reflected the initially awkward interactions between the roommates, who were strangers at that point. After a few episodes though, once they had gotten a little bit closer, I really began to look forward to catching up with the roommates every week. I'm one of those people who will stick with a TV show for a few episodes before deciding whether or not to continue on. Hell, Game of Thrones took me a whole season to really get hooked, but it's definitely been worth it. I feel like the beauty of television shows is that you get to see characters/people over a span of time, and see their journeys.

If I were to be really picky, I would say maybe eleven cast members might have been a bit much. Turns out to have been a good choice in hindsight, with so many people leaving now, though. The many cast members were balanced out by having group storylines though, and of course busier stars like Chan Yeol, Bom, and Dong Wook frequently busy. Makes me wonder why they and the PDs decided it was even a good idea to sign people to the show who would be missing so many episodes. I guess it does add name value and attract fans. Also we do get a glimpse of their busy lifestyles. I always did find 2ne1 TV really interesting.

The show has lately benefited from a shortened runtime, and more consolidated storylines. The producers are probably going to do a format change with the 'second season' starting on September 21. Not sure if they'll be able to get any top stars since the ratings are low, but maybe the producers will come up with some good ideas for a new format?

Anyway, even if the rumors about Roommate being a filler show until K-Pop Star are true, I'm going to stick with it until it ends, or gets quite bad. Or if any potential new roommates are boring. I still really enjoy watching it, and am a sucker for their little heartwarming moments.

Anyone else still watching?
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